How to pay less for international roaming

Staying in contact with friends and family when you travel can cost a bomb and although the European Commission just dropped international roaming rates in Europe for European residents on 1st July, people from the UK alone are still estimated to spend £500 million on roaming fees this summer – it happens to the best of us. Here are a few tips to help you stay connected when you travel, without the huge roaming bill.

Data roaming

Switch your browser

If you switch your browser to Opera it will compress your data by as much as 50% meaning you pay half the price than you would for the same activity. The quality of webpages, uploading and downloading data is not affected. Opera Max has recently been released and should save you quite substantially. Data roaming is usually what causes international roaming bills to sky rocket!

Don’t stream

If you are travelling internationally, don’t stream music or movies unless you are rich and love to waste money. Instead make sure you are prepared with all the tunes and films you need before you travel to keep costs down.

Travel apps

Travel apps are great but most of them need a data connection in order to work which is pretty irritating as they can end up ramping up your phone bill something chronic. When you are looking at travel apps before you travel, make sure they are available offline – there are quite a few good ones that work offline including Triposo, TripIt and Google Maps.

Change your SIM

If you change your SIM card to a pay as you go SIM card you will ensure that you cannot overspend. You can set a certain amount of credit and just to up when you need to – meaning no excessive data bills. This was you can still be contacted when you travel if you need to be. There is a wide variation as pay as you go SIM cards so make sure you get one that is suitable for your purpose as you may be able to get free incoming calls, and cheap data internationally. Local SIMs can be a good idea but topping up in a foreign language can be near impossible so keep this in mind.

Monitor your usage

On most handsets you can set a data limit, this will ensure you don’t go over the amount you have allowed yourself. When you are setting data limits its best to check what the cost per megabyte is so you can work out how much you are prepared to pay per day.

Data compressor

As well as having an Opera browser, you can further compress data with data compression apps like Onavo Extend. It works in the background to compress data so you can get online for less.

Turn off data roaming

Before you fly, you should turn off data roaming otherwise your phone will update all your apps, emails and social accounts when it connects to a network when you land. You should tweak your settings to ensure that automatic updates are disabled, this way you can update just the apps that are important. When you need to check emails and Facebook turn data roaming on till they all update and then switch it off again when you need it.


Use WiFi wherever you can, this should be when you update your apps manually and sync your emails. If you need to download anything, do it when your connected to WiFi. You can also use WiFi connections to contact friends and family wither by Skype or Viber.

Image: Shutterstock

Andrea Crome is Marketing Manager at WorldSIM.

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Comments (15)

  1. David White says:

    These are good tips, but none of them is going to dramatically lower the outrageous costs of international data roaming charged by most US mobile carriers.

    The most cost-effective option in our opinion is to unlock your device before you leave, then buy a SIM and short-term data plan in your overseas location. Data rates are much lower in Europe, for example, than in the US (and they are much, much lower than data roaming on a US-based plan).

    There are mobile shops in airports and throughout most European cities.

    This will not solve the issue of calls and texts being forwarded from your home phone/device though…with a different SIM in your phone/device, those messages will not be sent to you. But you can probably go online and read messages (or call into your voice and text message mailboxes) while traveling, then reply to the senders using voice over internet, instant messaging, etc.

  2. Good tips for anyone. My daughter is leaving for Florence today and we’ve had quite a chat about data and the phone. It can be very confusing and I’m hoping we don’t get any nasty surprises on the bill.

  3. Paul Johnson says:

    I’m not sure why you say “none of them is going to dramatically lower the outrageous costs of international data roaming charged by most US mobile carriers”, David…

    The last two, for instance, will certainly do exactly that!

  4. noel says:

    These are all great tips for saving costs or even paying nothing depending on how flexible you are in terms of data roaming, definitely wifi access in many places is the best way to do that for free or the cost of a coffee in a café.

  5. David White says:

    Paul Johnson– you’re right, those practices will reduce data usage, but in then your device is not fully functional and/or you must have a wifi connection.

    I was looking at it from the perspective of continuing to maintain full connectivity. And SIMS with data plans in Europe are cheap.

  6. anna parker says:

    It is so frustrating the price – when I travel with work and need constant blackberry usage, I’m staggered by the bill and just glad I don’t pay it… Good tips – especially the first one for my iphone if on holiday and I do need it!

    We tend to save money by having a social media ban during any holiday – and just checking emails in the evenings, or dipping into the news! But I like the idea of using google maps, so i’m glad roaming is going down!

  7. Ashish Kumar says:

    Thanks for the advise.Good tips for everyone.It can be very confusing and I’m hoping we don’t get any nasty surprises on the bill.

  8. Jenny says:

    One tip if in your destination country, if there’s a sim that can be easily bought without id, just use this and opt for prepaid cards.

  9. John says:

    The solution is to switch to tmobile. Free, unlimited international data roaming and $0.20/ min voice calls. Worked great for me.

  10. I tend to stick to Wi-Fi whenever I can while travelling. I am sadly very addicted to the internet and it does me good to be off line for a while.

  11. Nilla Palmer says:

    Some good tips!
    I left Australia more than 4 months ago and currently travelling in Asia. My Vodafone pre-paid charges (Australian) $12.50 to connect then $12.50/minute. This is charged when receiving or when making a call – a sort of double-dipping don’t you think? Then here’s the SMS charges, et-al. As I’m in and out of different countries here, it’s a pain to keep a bunch of different cards and swap all the time, so, I tend to keep my mobile for emergencies and use Viber or Skype.

  12. Corn says:

    We are currently travelling in Europe, unfortunately free wifi is not easily available here……book your hotels wisely or you may end up getting one without free wifi.

  13. Stefanie Argudo Mackenzie says:

    I travel in Central and South America a lot. For me the best solution is just to buy an inexpensive phone down there which is configured to their network. Then, just buy the prepaid cards. The phone and minutes are cheap. Phone is no more than 50USD, and it is a smartphone so you can use it anyway you choose. I tend not use the phone for just communication. Don’t know if this would apply to Europe or not, but I’m going to find out as I’m going to the UK for 3 weeks at the end of October.

  14. Stefanie Argudo Mackenzie says:


    I tend to use the phone for just voice communication. When I’m traveling I tend to leave the smartphone functions alone.

  15. George says:

    @john is right for us Americans. T-Mobile is targeting travelers hard with free international roaming in just about every country for texts and data. I love not having to hunt down SIM cards anymore!

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